Sunday, January 17, 2010

Making Decisions Based on Fact, not Emotion

The decision to approve a parking lot for the Belly-Up Bar, with conditions attached, was approved at last week's council meeting. As expected, the decision has not been a popular one with the local residents. I understand that they want a peaceful neighbourhood, and they are concerned that they may be losing this. But I would hope that they would have an appreciation for my perspective, which is that I have to vote according to the legal facts of the situation, as well as the actual evidence that we have.

My vote was based on the following facts:

First, the land in question is zoned commercial, C-2, and has been for many years. The previous council was mis-informed by a member of the city administrative staff, when we were told that it was zoned residential, R-5. Because it is zoned for commercial use, council has no discretion over this decision, and it should never have come to council for a vote. People may be confused, because there was a house on the land, but residential housing has been built on land zoned commercial. Before we lived in our current house, Andrea and I lived in a little house on 13th Street East that was (and is) in a similar situation - the whole block is zoned commercial, but there are residences along the north side of the street, businesses along the south side, although when we first lived there a couple of homes were built in between the businesses on the south side of the street - closer to 6th Avenue East, that is still the case. If you live adjacent to commercial development, this may well be your situation.

Second, the lot in question has not been used as a parking lot, so I'm not sure why residents are so positive that allowing it to be used for parking, especially with the sound and security accommodations that have been proposed by Mr. Tesar, will lead to the dire consequences that they are predicting. A restaurant and lounge are located directly across the street, with a parking lot in the rear, and this doesn't seem to be a problem for residents. To not allow it in this case would be discriminatory.

Third, our requirement of commercial licensees is that their establishment has adequate parking for patrons - Mr. Tesar is trying to comply with this requirement, and is willing to meet additional conditions that other businesses owners have not had to, in an effort to allay the residents' concerns. There doesn't seem to be much appetite from the residents to meet him half-way, which is unfortunate. Quotes from residents indicating that they hope to drive the business to failure indicates that they aren't even interested in looking for a win-win situation.

The arguments that have been made since this decision are based on emotion, not on providing additional factual information. I can't speak for any other member of council, but I have made it my practice of voting according to the facts, not based on emotion, threats, insults, or personal aspersions on my character, none of which help to find solutions.

The last time this came to council, one of my fellow councillors accurately pointed out that we hadn't solved the problem, and it would continue to drag on, which it has. My suggestion at that time was that the city should try to work with Mr. Tesar to find an alternate solution. Wouldn't it be great if we could get someone with his obvious business talents to set up downtown, which desperately needs more development to get people there in the evenings, after the offices have closed and the daytime occupants have left. This would be moving toward a solution that would benefit all parties, plus the city as a whole.

We also need to develop plans for dealing with future potential conflicts, since, as I've indicated, similar residential areas are zoned for commercial use. In the meantime, we need to focus more on finding creative solutions and compromises, not on delaying decisions or making them based on emotions and personalities - that only causes long-term pain, as we are seeing now.

And finally, as a council, let's learn to listen to each other respectfully, and not act as though disagreement is to be taken as an opportunity for questioning each others' commitment, capability, or understanding of the job. Those of us at the table should understand better than anyone how difficult it is to make decisions on these matters, and should appreciate that we're each, in our own individual way, trying to do our best for the city.

"Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat." - Harry Emerson Fosdick


Doug said...

With all due respect, Mr. Atkinson, you do have discretion as to the use of the lot in question as defined in the rules of C2 zoning (we picked up a copy from the city planning office yesterday! Give us and the rest of the citizens of PA some credit!

Your "facts" bear many errors sir! The said lot was used for parking as determined in court. This resulted in 25 convictions. Residents do have a problem with the lot at Stavros, we just have no recourse to fight it (as you should know). You were in council when we successfully blocked a bar in what is now Stavros a year prior to that opening and for some inexplicible reason council went ahead a year latter with us on holidays to approve this venture. Suffice it to say, should Mr. Stavros apply to expand his lot we will strongly oppose it!!! As to appearing discriminatory sir, two wrongs do not make a right. You have approved a traffic flow of drunken drivers onto a dimly lit back alley used by residents that include seniors and children. I hope you can live with yourself if one of those is killed by one of these drivers!

I don't know who you are quoting when you say residents want to drive him out of business, certainly not my family. We have always maintained we want to find a way to meet the needs of both business and residents. As for meeting Mr. Tesar half way, he was given that opportunity in the summer of 2007 where all stakeholders were invited to talk about options for the property (a meeting you attend, Mr. Atkinson...). Mr. Tesar did NOT attend citing a previous commitment and inadaquate time only to be seen driving up and down 14th during the meeting. I put it to you that he has been unwilling to meet us half way. He has been given a generous offer to use hundreds of parking spots at the Gateway Mall and publicly refused in front of council saying his clients were drunk and did not want to drive under the bright city lights but prefered the dark side streets, the ones we live on!

As for this process dragging on, it was Mr. Tesar that withdrew his application in 2007 and went ahead with the removal of the residence, the gravelling of the lot, and the use of said lot for patrons and staff of his bar to park on (part of an agreed statement of facts at his bylaw trial). The last council only asked (I would say wisely) that all stakeholders be involved and add their opinion.

Mr. Atkinson, I don't hate you, I don't even know you. I do not like this decision, however. I think you have made the wrong one, a heartless one and I suggest one more routed in emotion than you are willing to admit. Once again, you have voted contrary to Mayor Scarrow and Councilor Dionne and I would suggest this is a move based on your emotions against them!

Doug Simonite

bclavier said...

I agree with the other commentator: C2 zoning means parking lots ARE a discretionary use, and council CAN deny a development permit for one in a C2 zone. Apparently, Bylaw #1 of 1987 isn't important enough for you to read carefully.

The requirements of "Option B" that you moved, will, ultimately, be ignored by Mr. Tesar.